How Leaders Really Drive Change
Change. Impact. Purpose. Leadership. Mission. As the President of Ellevate Network, a global professional women’s network committed to closing the gender achievement gap in business, these words have come to define my professional life.
I take Ellevate’s role in this community very seriously and I know that to drive change it takes a strong leader. It is important to set an example by being a role model, crafting a mission, and articulating a clear strategy for taking action. The final piece to this puzzle, and for me the most important one, is diversity.
Craft a Mission
This is often the hardest part. When developing a mission, the business should be able to answer 1) what is it trying to achieve (purpose), 2) who is the business helping (customer), and 3) how is it going to help (impact). Oftentimes we want to help everyone and have a million ways to go about solving the problem. But as a business leader, the most important thing you can do is focus your company; after all, it’s you who everyone is looking to for direction. Pick one solution and dedicate 100% to solving it. Once you’ve got that down, you can add more. But trying to do too much out of the gate leads to lack of focus and competing priorities.
Also important to think about: will those outside of your organization understand what your company’s mission is? Typically, individuals will interpret your mission against their own priorities and experiences. And words are powerful. So a mission that is clear, concise, and inspiring can be a huge asset. Test the language on key stakeholders such as funders, customers, and employees as well as your friends and family. Ask them to repeat it back to you. Can they remember the mission and clearly restate it? Ask them what the mission means. Is their answer right? The clearer the mission, the clearer the focus. And once you have the mission clarified, communicate it, communicate it, communicate it.
Rally Internal Teams
I am thankful every day for the Ellevate staff. For the Ellevate community of chapter leaders who are so passionate about helping other women, and most importantly, for the Ellevate member community.
I’m thankful because each of these groups believes that the gender achievement gap needs to be closed (Come on. 95.4% of S&P 500 CEOs are men, 83% of US Board seats are held by men, 90% of VC funding goes to companies founded by men). And I’m thankful because not only do they believe in our mission – they further the mission by investing their time, money and knowledge in other women, by calling out inequalities and having the courageous conversation within their own organizations, and by continuously contributing to the Ellevate Network community.
But let’s be honest. Working with stakeholders who have different priorities is not easy, and at times there is discontent, low points, resistance to change. I’ve always found that transparency is critically important. When stakeholders feel informed, involved in the decision, and invested in the outcome, a strong commitment to the mission (and success of the mission) is inevitable.
At the B Corp Leadership Development event in NYC, Vincent Stanley, Director of Philosophy at Patagonia, shared a story about when the company transitioned to sourcing materials from an organic field vs. one that used pesticides. The change required more of employees in terms of supply chain management and logistics. So employees were invited to visit the fields. To smell the fresh air of the organic field as opposed to the chemical smell. To see the birds and insects inhabiting the organic field as opposed to the lack of life. And after that experience, the employees were fully on board with doing more and coming up with new solutions to ensure that Patagonia sourced from organic fields. Employee engagement is key.
I love Ellevate’s partners. Seriously. I do. Companies such as FairyGodBoss, Werk, 2020 Women on Boards, The Muse, Huffington Post, Forbes, and Bossed Up, that are working hard to change the professional landscape for women. And Ellevate’s corporate partners such as IBM, Paul Hastings, Schwab and Accenture that want to close the gender gap within their own organizations. We are all passionate about helping women to succeed. And whether we are helping women return to work, find flex work, discover a great employer, advocate for paid leave, get on a public board, start a company, receive equal pay, or take a seat at the leadership table… we’re all doing it together. There is strength in numbers and a collective voice is louder than a lonely one. As a community, Ellevate and its partners have learned to leverage shared resources and insights. We amplify each other’s message. We recognize our collective strengths and weaknesses and utilize the power of community to drive change.
Be A Role Model
Another important aspect of driving change is thought leadership. You need to believe in your company and its positive impact on the world more than anyone else. And as the leader (and therefore the “face”) of your company, your voice is important. I personally struggle with this. I care so much about Ellevate, the Ellevate community, and developing new products to help professional women get ahead that my inclination is to direct my time and energy internally. But I’ve learned the hard way (thanks for the nudge, Ellevate Team) that I can have the biggest impact by directing my voice externally. If I’ve done a good job conveying the mission and rallying the teams (as I’ve mentioned above) then I can be confident that the business will continue to grow.
I’ve written about how companies of all sizes can create cultures and policies for women, and I’ve thought about new solutions such as an employee executive board, I’ve spoken at events, and actively worked with the White House Council on Women and Girls as well as other advocacy organizations. It’s a lot of work, trust me, but my professional mission is to close the gender achievement gap in business and I’ve come to realize that using my influence and voice to drive a positive impact for Ellevate’s community is how I can have the greatest influence.
The Final Piece: Diversity. Diversity. Diversity.
The power of diversity is undeniable. If you have a team of people who all look alike, come from the same background, religion, and experiences then my guess is that they will arrive at the same solution. And it won’t be a very exciting one. But when you convene a team comprised of individuals who look different, act different, have different beliefs and perspectives – then you’ll get different solutions. And that’s what we need.
[Related: Be the Diversity You Seek]
But you, the leader, need to believe in diversity. In a recent poll of the Ellevate Network community, 39% said that senior management engagement works best at improving diversity in companies. So you need to send a clear message that diversity is important, that goals, KPIs, and the success of the business is tied to the diversity of your business.
And not only do you need to believe in diversity, you need to believe in the solutions that diverse teams bring to the table. As an example, Ellevate’s customers are professional women. Veterans, women of color, entrepreneurs, Millenials, ex-pats, moms, business owners, women trying to get on boards, and women trying to figure out the next step in their career. When the voices at the internal meeting represent the voices in the network, we have a much better chance of helping the women in our community.
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Kristy Wallace is the CEO of Ellevate Network, and is responsible for executing Ellevate Network’s mission to close the gender achievement gap in business by providing professional women with a global community to lean on and learn from. She directs the Network’s staff, is responsible for business growth and strategy, and works closely with Ellevate's Chapter Leaders, Business Partners, and Champions to further Ellevate's impact. Kristy is host of the Ellevate Podcast: Conversations with Women Changing... Continue Reading
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